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This Week Around the World

Jews in Danger

Last week in London, two men were arrested by the police when a pro-Israel protester, standing outside the School of Oriental and African studies was bitten on the cheek and subsequently taken to the hospital.

Four members of the organization, Stand With Us, decided to go to SOAS after
learning that a Celebrate Palestine event was going down – part of Israel Apartheid Week. Two of these Jewish gentlemen, Tony Coren and Gili Brenner, went into the university and held a conversation with the student
participants.

Palestinian child

“We had placards and some information packs, and we had some very interesting and civilised discussions,” said Mr. Coren. However, the situation quickly, unexpectedly turned antagonistic, “About four or five people were standing around Gili, Ro’i Goldman, and the fourth member of our group, Dean Gold. One man
began to say some extremely unpleasant things about Jews. He said that
the best thing the Jews had ever done was to go into the gas chambers.
Dean asked if he could film him. The man said yes, adding that ‘these
things should be heard
.'”

“Another man then came forward and told the abusive man that he did not
have to be filmed or interviewed. Despite the abusive man agreeing to be
filmed, Mr Coren said, the second man, who was “big and burly and of
Middle East appearance,” allegedly launched himself at Dean, grabbing at his
camera, punching him and then biting him on the cheek….There was a struggle and the university security guards came out. A number of other people then began to say we shouldn’t be there. The president of the union came out and said we had made our point. A policeman strongly advised us to leave.”

Jenni Frazer, of the Jewish Chronicle Online, reported:

“Ro’i Goldman, who plans to study in the UK next year, said he was very shocked by the experience. But Tony Coren said he was not shocked, but was angry that the university authorities had indicated that by their very presence, the Stand With Us
protesters had possibly provoked the attack.”

Meanwhile, an IDF officer suffered slight injuries on Yom Purim during a scuffle on Yehuda Hayamit Street in Jaffa. A captain in the Armored Corps, the officer was attacked from behind by an unidentified assailant while sitting on a bench. The assailant stabbed him once in the chest and snatched his rifle.

The officer was evacuated to the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv.

Beyond the Palin

Meanwhile, 2008 vice Presidential nominee, former Alaskan governor, and American Republican Party mogul, Sarah Palin visited the Kotel on Purim. She is scheduled to have dinner with Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife on Monday. Reuters reported that she said Israel is “too apologetic.”

Reuters Has the Scoop

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Hamas men broke into a Reuters office in Gaza and assaulted one journalist, clobbering him with a metal pole and breaking his arm.

Hamas is divided over Mahmoud Abbas’ offer to visit Gaza and conduct conference with Hamas leaders about the formation of a Palestinian Unity government.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

The London branch of the Ahava cosmetics store was closed for three and a half hours (11:30 am until 3pm) on Shabbat when activists, acting on behalf of the International Solidarity Movement, locked their arms together on a concrete slab with tubing leading into the middle of the shop.

The protestors were removed and consequently arrested by London Police.

Ahava store in London shut down

The aggravated trespass charge will be challenged on grounds that Ahava is an unlawful business ergo no lawful activity was stopped by the provisional blockade.

For those who have not felt the mineral magic of Ahava’s Holy Land blessed face, body and hand, bath and hair, botanic, spa, anti-aging, dermud and various other products – I feel bad for you.

You don’t know what you’re missing!

A privately held Israeli firm founded in 1988, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories’ central location and much-visited visitors’ center is located in Mitzpe Shalem, in the spectacular Judean desert; a spitting distance from the magical Dead Sea and the freshwater springs of Ein Gedi: playground for the Syrian Brown Bear, Mountain Gazelle and Nubian Ibex, where King David hid from his persecutors and composed Psalms to Elohim.

37% of Ahava company shares are held by the settlement of Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, 37% by Hamashbir Holdings (investment fund of B. Gaon Holdings and the Livnat family), 18% by Shamrock Holdings (investment fund of the Roy E. Disney family), and 7% by Kibbutz Kalia.

Mitzpe Shalem is about 9 km from the green line, Kibbutz Kalia too lays in disputed territory.

According to international law, a person of any nationality may establish a factory in any country, so long as they pay taxes to the local government. The Palestinian Authority does not receive any kind of bursary from the lucrative Israeli cosmetics firm, and therein is found the grievance.

To put things into context, listen to this:

Last year, while on display in London at the British Library, the antiquities minister of Jordan urged the Britons to return the Dead Sea Scrolls to them, rather than to their home at the Israel Museum. The reason? The ancient Hebrew Biblical scriptures on sheepskin parchment, dating from 50 AD and backward were uncovered in Qumran in the Judean Hills before the founding of the State of Israel, in “annexed territory.”

Come on! Like Jordanians can read Hebrew!

The “pillage” or “plunder” of materials, referencing the all-natural ingredients of Ahava products is illegal under international humanitarian law; specifically Articles 23, 53 and 55 of the Hague Regulations; Articles 51 and 53 of the 4th Geneva Conventions and Article 8(2)(b) of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court.

Once an Israeli government official was asked about the legality behind the activities of the Ahava firm and this is what they said:

“The Palestinians did nothing with this land when they had it…And the Palestinians still have access to the Dead Sea. If they wanted to, they could set up a factory themselves.”

In November 2009, the Dutch Foreign Minister launched an investigation into the conditions which Ahava products are made to determine if the firm’s practices and location flouted international law and European Union labeling regulations.

This is what a representative of Ahava had to say:

“The Dead Sea and its treasures are international and do not belong to one nation…The company was founded out of love for the magical environs of the Dead Sea and throughout the years has been driven by a deep passion to reveal the secrets of the minerals’ rejuvenating effects on the skin. Therefore, the natural location of the factory is along the western shore of the Dead Sea.”

The Ahava factory outlet in Israel is open Sunday through Thursday 8-5, Friday 8-4, and Saturday 8:30-5.

Bye-Bye Olympics

Michael PhelpsWell, the 2008 Summer Olympics come to a close today. It’s been a unique journey.

First of all, the day the games began, Russia and Georgia had spiraled fast into a state of war, shocking the entire world.

Next, we had the bad weather in Beijing, and the murder of an American tourist by a Chinese citizen. The violence didn’t stop there, as we’ve seen yesterday the Cuban taekwondo contender kicking a judge in the head!

As for the winners, it’s been the time of their lives for Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, breaking several astounding records and demonstrating the ingenuity of the human spirit and body. On the Israeli front, Shahar Tzuberi made us all proud with his bronze medal in windsurfing, and rhythmic gymnast Irina Risenzon raised our hopes by making it to the final round.

Nevertheless, the big winners are no doubt the Chinese. They have gained many gold medals, but no less importantly, they’re enjoying the warm embrace of the West despite their failure to improve their human rights record or their environmental attitude. Yesterday they even had the audacity to block the iTunes service within the whole of China, because several guest Olympic athletes downloaded Tibetan protest music via Apple’s internet store. And they do it even before the closing ceremony!

The next summer show will take place in London 4 years from now, but I’m sure plenty water will flow under the bridge by then.

Israeli Film Festival in UK

Noodle The MovieExciting news for the Israeli cinema: the first Israeli film festival kicks off in London, Britain, showing recent films that have won international recognition as long with some classic Israeli movies. The film that opens the film festival is an award winning film Noodle, starring Mili Avital, which tells the story of a flight attendant who tries to reunite a Chinese boy with his missing mother.

“This Israeli cinema showcase is an opportunity for cinema-goers to experience some of the best of the great films that Israel has produced over the years and also to find out more about the diverse society that exists behind the daily news headlines”

, said movie’s director Ayelet Menahemi.

Israeli cinema has gained world-wide recognition, both from audiences and critics. In the last few years, Israel has produced high quality movies: Walking on Water, Free Zone, Beaufort, to name a few. Remarkably, this year, Israel was nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign film category, and won second place. Indeed, we have reasons to be proud. Even more significantly, Israeli cinema opens a window wide for the world to see what it means to be an Israeli, which is much more than the limiting frame of the Jewish-Arab conflict.

Lev Leviev Quitting Israel

The announcement by Billionaire Lev Leviev, one of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, that he and his family are planning to leave Israel is causing reverberations all over Israel, and the Jewish world. Reported destination for Mr. Leviev is London, England, where the businessman and entrepreneur already has varied business interests. He is Chairman of African Israel Development Company, is also head of L.L.D. Diamonds, the largest diamond manufacturing company in Israel and one of the largest in the world. Leviev, age 51, came to Israel originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1971, and has been one of the leaders of the Bukharian Jewish community in Israel for many years. The billionaire’s personal fortune has been estimated at “between 4 and 7 billion dollars”, and he is rated number 278 by Forbes rating of the wealthiest people in the world.

A deeply religious man, Leviev made the news several years ago when he purchased the controlling interest in the exclusive Ramat Aviv Shopping Mall, and almost immediately prevented the multi-screen cinema there from being open on Shabbat and Jewish religious holidays. Although the cinema later opened its doors during Jewish holy days, Leviev retaliated by announcing that he would remove the cinema entirely from the mall. Leviev is deeply involved in the Chabad religious movement, and has made large donations to the Chabad Movement in both Israel and abroad. He was a personal friend of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who has been refereed by many as the Jewish “Meshiach” or Messiah.

Leviev’s diamond empire, which includes mines in both Russia and southern Africa, has given him so much clout that he has even challenged the DeBeers international diamond syndicate by saying that due to the size and scale of his operations, he doesn’t need to be a Debeers diamond “sight-holder” since he has enough access to raw, uncut diamonds from his own sources. His real estate empire has also reached a state where he is purchasing exclusive property in cities such as London and New York City, some of which cost more than half a billion dollars. Besides purchasing various luxurious properties in the U.S., his Africa Israel company also owns controlling interest in the 1,700 “Fina” gas stations which are spread all over the continental U.S.

Leviev is a strong family man and the father of nine children. Recently, he appointed his eldest daughter to be the CEO of Africa-Israel, which may have been an advanced notification of his intention to relocate. He has also been recently quoted that he is very dissatisfied with the present political situation in Israel and also in the manner in which many non-religious Israelis are living, including their desecration of the Sabbath and religious holidays. Israel’s dealing with the Palestinians has also been disappointing to Leviev, especially in regards to the Olmert government’s willingness to return most of the West Bank in return for a peace agreement.

Whether Leviev and his family will like living in an increasingly Muslim influenced city like London is too early to tell. London’s Jewish population has recently taken on a religious revival which many younger families choosing to become deeply religious. London’s business proximity is probably attractive to Mr. Leviev as the city of nearly 20 million has one of the largest diamond bourses in the world. And regarding his many business interests in Israel, London is only a 4 hour plane flight away. While this move may not be permanent one, Mr. Leviev appears to be sending the State of Israel a distinct message that it should consider putting its political and religious house in order before it’s too late to do so.

All of England Loves Israel

Yossi Benayoun was not able to play in Saturday Night’s game against Russia; but that didn’t stop the Israeli National Team from pulling off their stunning 2-1 victory over the visiting side at Ramat Gan National Stadium. That wasn’t the only thing that put similes on the faces of both the Israeli team and their fans; the win has now elevated England’s chances to advance in the World Cup qualifying rankings. As a result, Israel and its football team are now very popular to millions of people in the U.K.; so popular in fact that adoring U.K. football fans were waving Israeli fans and singing ‘hava nagila’ in pubs all over the England. And Omer Golan, (pictured) who kicked the winning goal is now as much adored as Yossi, the team captain.

That this great change in British-Israeli relations has occurred in only a month has not been attributed to the efforts of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was chosen to be a special European Union envoy between Israel and the Palestinians. No, not at all; this change has been brought about by sport, namely football. Sports have often resulted in better relations between countries, and in this case sports have turned an increasingly hostile British public into one in which many of whose members outright said they will not only come to visit Israel, but even want to acquire Israeli citizenship as well.

All of this started in October when former Macabbee Haifa coach Avraham Grant became coach for the London based Chelsea football club; a move which many in both Israel and the U.K. said was doomed to failure. Grant’s short tenure at Chelsea has so far been partially responsible for turning that club’s football fortunes around, and improving its overall Premier League standings. Following afterwards was the playing success of Israeli football star Yossi Benayoun who has helped the Liverpool Football Club win several match victories, including a stunning 8-0 win over a hapless Turkish team. And now, Israel’s win over Russia, which gives the British national team a chance to advance into the next round of the World Cup qualifying matches.

The win has done wonders for relations between the two countries; and with the year 2008 promising to be good year for incoming tourism to Israel, there is no doubt that many incoming tour groups will be from the U.K. Previous friendly matches between Israel and both the U.K. and Ireland have resulted in football fans from both countries getting to know each other. And, as many will happily testify, there are plenty of pubs and other public houses in Israel to satisfy any Englishman’s thirst.

If all of this doesn’t make sport the grand equalizer, then what does?

Euro to Replace the U.S. Dollar?

A recent comment by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Allan Greenspan that the Euro may one day replace the U.S. Dollar as the “reserve currency of choice” makes people wonder where the ‘greenback’ is heading. At present, the dollar is falling sharply against the European currency with the Euro reaching an all time high recently of $1.3925.

Israelis have always had a love affair with the Dollar; and for years virtually all real estate transactions were pegged to this currency, including rentals. Even many insurance policies were ‘linked’ to the Dollar; as well as salaries, savings schemes, and other important financial transactions.

This may all be changing, however, as the greenback continues to travel “south” against the ever strengthening Euro. It must be remembered that the EU represents a number of European economies, including ‘softer’ ones like Greece, Portugal, and recent new EU members from the former Eastern European “Commicon” countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

With all this in mind, including America’s massive national debt and balance of payments deficit, it’s no wonder that the ‘pristine Europeans’ who spend virtually little on national defense, are able to bask in the glory of their “wonderful economies”.

Everything seems wonderful, until you consider some very important reasons for this discrepancy between the two currencies. For one thing, except from some token forces, the Europeans seem content to sit back and let America be the “policeman of the world”. EU member economies often do not indicate the true situation in these countries; as many of them have high rates of unemployment and many people virtually living on the dole. By importing “guest workers” from Turkey, the Balkans, North Africa and southern Asia, European industries and service businesses are propped up by lower paid foreign workers; and what is not taken care of in this manner is done by ‘outsourcing’ to India and China. While countries like Germany still have a problem selling their higher priced cars to Americans, they have offset this by opening assembly plants in the U.S. New markets for high-line German autos like Audis, BMW’s and Mercedes Benz have been found in China and other Asian countries, where assembly plants have been opened as well.

And from a financial aspect, the Europeans do not seem to have a problem with criminal and terrorist organizations like the Russian Mafia and Al Qaeda “laundering” their illicit incomes, including “blood diamonds” in European financial institutions. The downside of this influx of illicit capital comes in the form of increased control by criminal and terrorist elements, as well as the encroaching “Islamization” of Western Europe; especially in France, Germany and the Netherlands, and even in the U.K.

Gt. Britain still uses the Pound Sterling as its official currency, even though it is a full EU member; and the “Quid” is now hovering at the $2 level. For this reason, Israeli currency dealers are continually favoring the Pound and the Euro over the greenback in regards to people wanting to buy foreign currency when traveling to EU countries.

Despite everything, however, people shouldn’t write off the Dollar as the US economy is still on the most admired, and America is still the destination of choice of many people who want to share in the American Dream. So in this respect, Mr. Greenspan’s comments may be a bit pre-mature; and it can be for certain that it will be a while before the “Great Mosque of New York City” will be built anytime soon.

Can the same be said for London, Paris, Amsterdam or Berlin?

Madonna’s Back!

Madonna In Israel
Pop music star, Madonna, arrived back in Israel to celebrate the High Holidays at a special international Kabbalah conference being held in Tel Aviv. She wasn’t alone this time, as besides arriving with her husband, Guy Ritchie (shown here with Israel President Shimon Peres), she was accompanied by an entourage of other celebrities including actress Demi Moore, actor Ashton Kutcher, and comedian Rosie O’Donnel.

Madonna appears to be getting into Kabbalistic study, and she presented President Peres with a copy of the Zohar, the ancient book of Jewish mysticism upon which the study of Kabbalah is based. Peres in turn presented her with a copy of the Old Testament Bible in Hebrew at a special reception held at his home in “Bet Hanasei” in central Jerusalem. The pop star has also become renowned for her humanitarian work, including adopting at least two children from impoverished African countries. She always wears the “Kabbalah Red String” on her left wrist, which is alleged by Kaballah believers to ward of the dangers of The Evil Eye. Her children are also seen wearing this amulet as well.

Orthodox Jews, especially ones trained in Kaballistic studies take a dim view of Madonna’s enthusiasm and even her participation as “an abomination” due to her not being Jewish, as well as her ‘interesting’ lifestyle. The singer’s fans don’t seem to mind, however; and even appear to admire her interest in this area. The other celebrities who came with her, have not appeared to get any real attention at all, including fashion designer Donna Karan, who perhaps came to become inspired to create some new fashion design that is influenced by Kabbalistic symbolism.

When questioned by reporters regarding her giving a copy of the Zohar, or Book of Splendor as it is known in English, to President Peres, she said that she was thrilled to give such a book to President Peres as it is very special to her and is “very popular in Hollywood”. She also went to say that she considers herself as “an ambassador for Judaism”.

As for Kutcher, a well known Hollywood character actor, he said that involvement in Kaballistic studies has improved his life and made him “a better actor”.

Rosie O’Donnel, who is well known for her “no holds barred” comments and ‘alternative life style’ may also be looking for some kind of inspiration to improve her life. This may also be so following her recent feud with billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Madonna, who was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, plans to stay several more days in Israel and will visit a number of sacred Kabbalah sites. She last visited Israel three years ago on a trip that was also connected with the Kaballah. She considers her visit during the Jewish High Holy Days as “a dream come true”.

The Kabbalah is a very involved study that most Jews, mostly men, only become involved in after age 40. It may be that the singing star, whose last big public appearance was in London during the recent Live Earth ecology song fest, may finally be coming to terms with her age which is “somewhere in her 40’s”. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that she said of U.S. actress and pop singer, Cher (who herself is Jewish and now in her late 50’s), that “Cher is aging gracefully”.

Perhaps, with the help of the “Book of Splendor”, Madonna, who also calls herself by the Hebrew name of Esther, is beginning to “age gracefully” herself.

Not Jewish?! What Are You Doing Here? (Part 19 London)

Jill
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen, Part Fifteen, Part Sixteen, Part Seventeen, Part Eighteen.

After we decided to move to London, everything moved really quickly – a date was chosen, a flight was booked and our flat was put on the rental market, from which – this being Tel Aviv – it was off again two and a half seconds later, taken by a young American Olah Hadasha, recently arrived in the country.

She also conveniently bought half of our furniture, and as the other pieces were either sent to friends or to Saar’s relatives, it meant we were left with very few belongings and the little we were taking was boxed up and shipped off to my sister’s house, where most of it still sits today, in the cupboard under the stairs, waiting for Saar and I to decide what to do with it.

Everything was running smoothly – even the matter of Saar’s visa didn’t throw any obstacles in our way.

As we had been together for more than two years, Saar was seen as my common law husband and as such was automatically entitled to a two-year working visa. A trip to the British Consulate in the morning with documents and photos that proved our time together (as well as a fair amount of cash), and by the afternoon we walked out with the visa stamped in the passport – although Saar didn’t quite believe it and insisted on checking repeatedly with the issuing clerk that it was really valid and again with the Consulate guards on our way out. He then spent the entire flight to London practising exactly what to say to the customs people at Heathrow and re-reading the wording on the visa, only to arrive and be summarily waved through immigration and out into the cold English air.

It was certainly a whole lot easier and less nerve-wracking than my bi-annual trips to Misrad Hapnim – an institution with which I had become very familiar over my years in Israel. The non-Jewish partners of Israelis are entitled to working visas as long as they can prove that the relationship is real and that a true desire to settle in the country is expressed, and so the weeks before my visa was due for renewal were always filled with a dreaded frenzy of document gathering and photo taking and the anxious hope that the rules would be the same as the last time I had been. For they seemed to change arbitrarily and be very much dependent on the whim of the clerk who served you that particular visit, who, of course, would shrug off all the rules that the clerk of your previous visit had told you.

Every time we would go, we would take our place before our allotted clerk, holding hands till our knuckles were white as if to stress the impenetrability of our coupledom, and sit tight while he or she made their way through the check list of documentation. We’d maybe throw the odd joke here and there, the odd exaggerated smile, in the attempt to endear ourselves to the person who had control over my future in the country, and even though my file was already bulging with photocopies of birth certificates, utility bills, payslips, rental contracts, letters from my family, Saar’s family, photos that showed us together in various environments and climates, proof of non-marriage, proof of non-dependents (all embossed with a Home Office seal of approval that had cost me a small fortune) there was always, always a new requirement that had been added to the list since the time of the last visit.

To its credit, however, the Interior Ministry had undergone vast improvements over the years and the utter disorganised chaos that had characterised my first visit to the Beer Sheva offices, where Boaz had been forced to practically bribe the guard to squeeze us past the desperate masses clamouring for attention, and then charm the clerk to do us the favour of seeing us, had become an orderly appointment system with even some vague semblance of consistency in the prices charged and the visa’s length of validity.

Having said that, it was still rare to be in the queue in Misrad Hapnim and not hear the tears, cries or abuse of some unfortunate whose visa request had been turned down.

I had never been denied a visa, and on the tail of such a success story, my advice was often sought by other non-Jewish girlfriends of Israeli males, a status I shared with quite a few people, as it turned out. One only had to scan a classroom at the Gordon Ulpan in Tel Aviv to spot the blonde European women who had followed those dark-eyed handsome Israelis they’d met in South America, or India, or Australia or wherever and now found themselves learning Hebrew five days a week and singing songs about the Second Aliyah.

I had only ever met one man who had followed his Israeli girlfriend to the country, but he’d only lasted a couple of months before heading back to the UK and a life he understood.

I’d like to think that this disproportionate ratio had less to do with the assumption , even in these days, that the woman will make the sacrifices to follow her man, than with the tenacity and determination of women, whose adaptability, flexibility and egoless strength to bear humility makes them survivors, able to thrive in the toughest conditions. But feel free to disagree with me, and anyway my man was now giving up his home country to come and live ‘on my turf’ and is already proving he is coping far better with the move than I am …

The Lowest Point On Earth

Tourism posters for Israel that have adorned the London Underground for the past few months – obviously targeting the male traveler!
Israel Poster in Israel

Not Jewish?! What Are You Doing Here? (Part 18 London)

I got an email about 30 minutes ago. Jill wrote me and asked if she can write her column again. Shit yes, I said :)
So after a long break (October 2006) here she is and hopefully for a long time. Welcome Back Jill !!

Jill
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen, Part Fifteen, Part Sixteen, Part Seventeen.

For those of you who were reading the ‘Not Jewish? What are you doing here?!’ column that was running in OJ a few months ago, you may remember that the story came to an abrupt halt with a rapidly worded entry that glossed over my last three years in Israel and fast forwarded to packing boxes and flying out to England, to where my boyfriend Saar, a singer/songwriter, had been offered a job recording with a London-based Italian record label.

Now I was no fan of London; I had lived there before, holed up in an overpriced flat in a northern side street, commuting with the miserable masses to the City, where I worked 13-hour days in a banking job that I didn’t even understand. Swaps, it was called, the basic concept of which still eludes me to this day, and the office was such an uninspiring place of stagnant boredom that a chronic fear of formal working environments has stuck with me ever since. The job, for what it was, paid ridiculously well, however (the silly amounts of cash involved in this type of work being the only reason anyone could ever possibly put themselves through it on a daily basis) and allowed me to then travel round South America, which is where I met Boaz, for whom I moved to Israel, to then split up with him, nearly move back to England, then meet Saar and end up staying, and for whom it now looked like I was going to move back to England. After all, when you’re an Israeli musician with a lifelong dream to take your talents abroad and you get offered a job in London, you pack your bags as quick as you can and you go.

Anyway, I thought, I could use a break from Israel for a while.

Packing UpThings had been a little tense to say the least. In fact most days at that time, about one year ago to the day, I was sweating away in my Dizengoff apartment, glued to the 24-hour news reports of Lebanon II, waiting for the rocket warning sirens that were resounding throughout the North to reach Tel Aviv. I was arguing with the va’ad beit (superintendent) of my building, who was refusing to unlock the door to the bomb shelter, for reasons I discovered only after I had thrown a mini hysterical fit in the stairwell, forcing him to reluctantly open it up. The room was dank and dark, full of dust and cobwebs and the abandoned junk of present and former residents of the flats above.

“You’ll have to clean this place out, just in case,” I’d said to him, making out in the squalid darkness the remains of a dead cat that had obviously been trapped down there since the last Gulf War.

“You clean it out,” he’d retorted, locked the door and trounced back upstairs where the sound of the news floated out through the open door of his flat.

Yelling some frustrated and undoubtedly wholly incorrect Hebrew at him about it all being on his head if they bombed and we had nowhere to go, I’d marched back up to my own flat where, of all the ironies, I was working on a travel guide to Israel that had been commissioned by a British website.

While I was trying to lure readers to the ‘magnificent landscapes of the Galilee’, the very people who lived there were sitting in their bomb shelters – watching the news –and the area’s hotels had long been emptied of the visitors who had been the signs of the first real tourism revival since the Intifada.

They were tense and confusing times. And very sad. There was less of the defiant togetherness that had characterized the worst days of the Intifada; the mood was very low and very bitter. Soldiers complained their objectives were unclear, that equipment was short – as was food; northerners shrieked at the government for not doing more, those under constant bombardment spat at Tel Avivians for sitting in cafes and going to the beach, while the world spat at Israel for its bombing of Beirut.

Most people I knew spent each day dreading that their husbands, brothers or sons would get sent to the front, or clinging to their cell phones waiting for the SMS that would tell them they were safe back from an incursion and in Israeli territory. Because soldiers were dying – and that’s the one thing that Israel can’t take.

The country’s tolerance levels when it comes to dying citizens far exceeds what it can take when boys in uniform start getting killed. For when a soldier dies, the whole national psyche goes into deep mourning. It’s a strange concept to understand and one that generated much debate among friends and colleagues at Haaretz, where I worked. Why is a soldier’s death so hard to take? Perhaps it’s because a soldier is never just a soldier in Israel but a brother, son or husband, because they are something everyone can relate to; perhaps because of the place the army is given in the media and within society as a whole, that it represents Israel’s youth and future, it’s ability to defend itself; perhaps because the army is Israel and a death reflects a vulnerability that no one wants to see, or perhaps just because they’re young, good-looking kids who should be studying and traveling and living life and when is this whole bloody cycle of death and hatred going to end? But when I found myself in floods of tears at a Channel 10 report interviewing the family of a dead soldier, in a way that I had not cried for victims of suicide bombings, I knew that I had stepped deeper into the Israeli consciousness – and that a bit of a break wouldn’t do any harm at all.

“OK so let’s move to London,” I said to Saar…

Live Earth – The Aftermath

The concerts attracted audiences from all over the globe, with live music in major world cities ranging from Sydney Australia to New York. Some of planet’s most well known entertainers took part, including Black Eyed Pea, Madonna, Phil Collins, Police, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dog, and more. Even Israel had its own version in central Tel Aviv, playing ironically only meters from the spot where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November, 1995. The message was clear enough, as expressed in a taped message by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore: the world is getting hotter due to Mankind’s abuse of the environment; and as a result, severe and even drastic changes are already occurring to the earth’s climate – changes that could prove fatal to many of our planet’s inhabitants in the coming years.

And in addition to the live concerts, the events were watched on T.V. the world over by at least 2 billion souls.

Little Israel, with a population of over seven million, is getting its share of the effects of global warming, the consequences of which were being shown to both the concert attendees at Rabin Square as well as to people sitting at home. Some of what is bringing on these changes in Israel, and the end result, including rising temperatures and coastal sea levels were also talked about by Channel 10 media personalities, including the fact that most of the country’s fresh water supplies, including the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee are heavily polluted; and that high air pollution levels in major cites result in the death of at least 600 people annually. With more than 1,000,000 cars on the country’s roads, at least 60% of them are leased vehicles given to employees of high tech and other companies. This fact alone, auto exhaust fumes, is responsible for 92% of the country’s air pollution problems.

Israel’s mounting problem with solid waste disposal, including hazardous industrial chemicals and other compounds was also mentioned, though not covered enough, considering the country’s problem with both ground and air pollution.

So now, just a few days later, have any changes occurred since Live Earth that can be spoken of in real terms, since the music ended? After the concerts, most people rode home in either their own cars or in public transport conveyances, some of which are also major contributors to air pollution. Ramat Hovav, Israel’s frequently talked about industrial waste disposal site, is likely to remain polluting the country’s entire southern regions for years – if not generations – to come. And the country’s ground water aquifer is becoming harder and harder to purify as more and more surface pollutants continue to contaminate it.

Madonna, one of the London concert’s guest performers and a champion of world social and environmental issues, made a very important comment by hoping that people attending the concerts will not only listen to the music but get the message of what needs to be done to prevent the end results of global warming. Many people say that the consequences of environmental pollution will eventually be far more serious to Israelis that any security problem short of outright nuclear war.

And so, people still clog the highways with their “lease-mobiles”, still throw their rubbish on the country’s beaches and in the national parks, and literally thousands of plastic bottles and other similar non-biodegradable items are seen lying forlornly everywhere. For those who aren’t aware, those plastic water and soft drink bottles are estimated to take at least 800 years to disintegrate; and the polymer composition of the plastic is very carcinogenic.

Three days later and nothing seems to have changed. – so far anyway. The future of global warming to inhabitants of this region is one in which rising sea levels may inundate parts of Tel Aviv and other coastal cities, and surface summertime temperatures may be similar to those presently in places like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. One can only wonder what the climate in those places will be like a mere 50 years from now.

Live Earth; save the planet. We all have a lot to do in order to make this dream become reality. We all live on an island we cannot leave. And unless we make a greater effort to reverse the environmental problems we all face, the future may not be very pleasant for any of us. So, make the effort and dedicate one day a week as a car-less day; and try to conserve both energy and water supplies, as well as pick up and dispose of trash more properly. Wash dishes by hand and hang out clothing to dry in our abundant sunshine. And take just one less shower per week.

It’s our world, so let’s improve it!

Finally Some Good News That Involves Iran

Good News From Iran This article made me smile and come on, you know that there are people over in Iran just flipping out about now….

A retired Iranian general who went missing in Turkey last month has defected and sought asylum in the US, according to a well-connected Arabic newspaper published in London.
The newspaper, al-Shark al-Awsat, cited “high-profile” sources saying former Iranian deputy defence minister and Revolutionary Guard commander Ali Reza Asghari had gone over to the West.

Reports from Istanbul that General Asghari’s family had also disappeared in Turkey support the likelihood that he defected rather than was kidnapped by either the CIA or by Israel’s Mossad, as has been speculated. The general went missing from his Istanbul hotel a month ago.

Iranian authorities, who have been silent on the disappearance until this week, claim he has been abducted. “It is likely Asghari has been abducted by Western intelligence services,” said Iran’s top police officer, General Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam.

Defection of such a high-ranking figure would leave no external enemy to blame and would be seen as a rejection of the Islamic state by someone who well knows its inner workings.

Air Fares: Great Fall/Winter Deals!

Planning to fly abroad from Israel soon? Several airline companies are planning special fare deals for both business and tourist classes, even in excess of normal seasonal fare reductions. Due to decreased demand, especially on departing flights from Ben Gurion Airport, companies such as British Air and Lufthansa are offering both reduced rates as well as additional frequent flyer bonus miles.
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Not Jewish?! What are you doing here? (Part 17 – Farewell)

Jill CartwrightPart One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen, Part Fifteen, Part Sixteen

And so it happened that two weeks after our first meeting in the Golden Bar, I packed up my things, crossed Tel Aviv and moved in with Sa’ar into his small apartment in the quiet leafy streets on the northern side of the city, and after a day or two was already repainting the walls and throwing out half the stuff he had hoarded in his cupboards.

Another year after that and I finally managed to get him to move out of the place and into a light-filled renovated apartment on Dizengoff Street. And just a year after that I find myself sitting in that same apartment – tonight right now as I write these words — surrounded by boxes, the bookshelf bare and waiting to be moved to his parents and a big dusty empty space where the fridge once stood before some dodgy guy our landlord knows came to pick it up today, and soon I’m going to have to pack up the computer too ready for another move and before I do that I’m sitting here thinking about how on earth I’m going to sum up the last three years with Sa’ar.

Sa’ar, who as it turns out was actually a famous singer, which is Israel seems to entitle every person on the street to stare at him, point at him or yell out his name from passing cars (and I thought being blonde was bad) Sa’ar with his beautiful warm, eccentric family, his Orthodox sister who “refound” religion and with whom I found my picture appear in gossip magazines as we went hand in hand into nightclubs (the evidence of which I would show here were I not so horribly unphotogenic) and Sa’ar who last month was offered a job in London.

And so we are going to London….and this time for real…

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